Best newspaper Web sites?

As traditional news organizations try to reinvent themselves online, it’s worth taking a look at those that are doing it most effectively. A financial news and opinion Web site called 24/7 Wall St. recently evaluated the Web sites of the 25 largest-circulation newspapers in the country.

The sites got ratings of “A” through “F” based on: 1) strength of content, 2) ease of use and navigation, 3) use of new web technology including comments sections, message boards, and multimedia, 4) lay-out 5) presence of a strong set of current advertisers, and 6) the size of their audiences based on measurements from the Compete website visitor database for April.

So, which papers got an A?
The New York Times

The San Francisco Chronicle (SFGate)

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) and the Detroit Free Press (Freep) can both boast an A-, but it’s interesting how few of these powerhouse papers have managed to transfer their success online.

Lessons to be learned from the best sites include:

  • Constant updates. Across the entire NYTimes.com site, stories are updated hundreds of times a day.
  • Navigation REALLY matters. SFGate, Freep and the AJC were all credited with ease of use.
  • Multimedia is key. SFGate has well thought out use of interactive features, video, polls, special reports and blogs.
  • Invite your readers in. At the top of the Freep homepage, the reader has a chance to become a “member” that allows him to blog, comment, and share photos. The opportunity to interact with the paper and other readers is front and center.

No surprises there, but a good reminder of what matters online.

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No intimate moments

Photographers who’ve been covering the 2008 presidential campaign have had precious few chances to capture truly candid moments with the candidates this year, says Temple University’s Andrew Mendelson, chair of the journalism department. Mendelson told a gathering a the Newseum yesterday that the public needs to understand just how “managed” campaign images really are.

As an example, he showed this photo of Barrack Obama

and compared it to this one of another Democrat running for president more than 50 years ago:

Adlai Stevenson had a reputation as an intellectual, aloof and a bit elitist. The photo helped to humanize him, although it didn’t keep him from being trounced by Republican Dwight Eisenhower. Mendelson admitted he’s a bit of a cynic, but he couldn’t help wondering if Obama’s staffers had image management in mind when they allowed a photographer to take shots of the candidate with his feet up on a desk. “We aren’t getting intimate moments,” he said. “They make sure the photographer is let in.”

It’s obvious to working journalists that campaigns manipulate images. Background, lighting, angle–nothing is left to chance. But Mendelson’s lecture was a reminder that part of our job as journalists is to be transparent, and to let the public in on what we know.